By Clint Kimberling
The cowbell is one of the most unique symbols representing Mississippi State University. A fixture at Bulldog sporting events for decades, cowbells are now used to decorate offices and homes of Mississippi State alumni and even passed down through generations.
Starkville artist Gale Belk has capitalized on this trend and began turning cowbells into canvases. Belk has been painting charming, MSU-theme portraits directly onto cowbells. Her custom-designed cowbell business took off in 2014 after the Bulldogs football team spent four weeks as the #1 ranked team in the country. “I’ve turned my garage into a studio, and it’s been a wild ride ever since,” she says.
Belk actually started painting as a way to make extra money. Interestingly, though, she has no artistic background to speak of. “I had never painted and never been trained before I decided to take it on,” she explains. “But the Lord gave me the ability to see things. God has grown my talent and blessed me with ability.”
She started small– painting wooden letters and wall murals for friends to build up her skills. She also paints on antique windows as well as traditional canvases. “I like to be creative, I like crafty things,” she says. Of her natural talent, she describes it by saying, “I just thought that if I could see it in my mind, I could paint it. And that’s what I do.”
Belk’s cowbell paintings start with a basic Bully Bell purchased from The Lodge in Starkville. She then sands down the surface to remove any shine and uses a simple acrylic paint on the bell. In most cases, the design is done free-hand although, some orders come with a specific picture. “I love to put together special designs that I come up with,” she says.
The designs include a lot of sport-themed cowbells. Belk has done paintings of Davis Wade Stadium, Dudy Noble Field and several other campus buildings. It probably helps that Belk and her husband are big Bulldog fans. In fact, they met at an MSU pep rally and were engaged the 2000 Independence Bowl (better known as the Snow Bowl).
Her custom orders allow for the development of relationships, and she loves to connect with people and hear the backstory behind the cowbell she’s creating. From painting a cowbell for Homecoming Queen last year to meeting a cowbell collector, the stories are endless. “Every day I get to meet great people that love MSU.”
For instance, recently she did a piece commissioned by an MSU alumnus, as a present for an incoming freshman who was joining the golf team. “I painted the Old Waverly Golf Course with Bully on the green. I loved the way it turned out. The golf coach even tweeted it out, and that was really neat.”
The bells make very popular decorations in fans’ homes as well as great presents. As tradition dictates, the first cowbell is given, not bought. Belk’s custom cowbells start at $67.20 and go up to $150 depending on the level of detail requested by the customer, which can be a lot. “You just won’t believe what people put on cowbells nowadays.”
Belk says she will continue to paint cowbells for MSU fans and alumni. “It’s a really cool way to celebrate family. To know that I’m creating something that will be eventually passed down to future generations.”
Belk’s artwork and cowbells are available for purchase at The Lodge at MSU. Find more information by searching “Gale’s Heavenly Expressions” on Facebook.